It was supposed to be an offensive shootout. It was supposed to go down to the wire. No. 1 Clemson (14-0) did not care for any of that. After going into halftime trailing by one point after having a pass intercepted in the end zone, the Tigers roared in the second half and buried No. 4 Oklahoma (11-2) with a 21-0 second half en route to a convincing 37-17 victory in the Orange Bowl semifinal of the College Football Playoff. Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman each rushed for over 140 yards and combined for three rushing touchdowns as Clemson punched its ticket to Glendale, Arizona to play in the second College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, January 11, 2016.
The first half of the game saw Clemson missing opportunities to tack on points at times, but they made sure that did not come back to haunt them in the second half. It did not help Oklahoma’s cause that running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon each went down with injuries in the game. Perine was injured twice in the game, the second injury bringing an end to his evening in Miami. Oklahoma managed just 70 rushing yards, which never allowed for much chance to keep pace with Clemson. Clemson rushed for over 300 yards thanks in large part to the combination of Gallman and Watson. It was a rough evening for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield too, who was under pressure essentially all game long and picked off twice despite 311 passing yards. Clemson’s quarterback also passed for 187 yards and a touchdown to keep the undefeated season continuing into the final game of the year. This was the second time Oklahoma has been outrushed by at least 250 yards by the opponent under Bob Stoops, who coached the Sooners to a second straight blowout loss at the hands of Dabo Swinney and Clemson.
Clemson’s defense got off to a sluggish start and ended the first half on a down note, but the second half the Tigers were on fire, even without Shaq Lawson (Lawson left the game in the first half with a leg injury and was ruled out for the second half; Lawson said he hopes to be able to play in the championship game). Clemson forced Oklahoma to punt, a turnover on downs, punt, an interception and a punt in the second half. It was quite the effort for Clemson, and it was a truly impressive bounce back after a sluggish first half at times.
Clemson will now await the winner of the Cotton Bowl semifinal game between SEC champion Alabama and Big Ten champion Michigan State. Alabama owns a 12-2 head-to-head record against Clemson, with the most recent meeting between the two programs coming in 2008 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. Clemson’s last win against Alabama came in 1905, which followed a victory in 1904. Alabama has won 12 straight meetings since. Clemson has never faced Michigan State.
For Oklahoma, it will be back to the drawing board. The Sooners still rebounded from a relatively down season in 2014 by striking back and taking advantage of a couple of Big 12 contenders playing without their top quarterbacks (TCU, Baylor). The offense opened up under a new offensive coordinator and the Sooners should still be expected to be one of the top contenders in the Big 12 next season. The perception of the Big 12 will also continue to be a talking point. Two years into the College Football Playoff and the Big 12 has yet to win a game (we’ll see if the SEC can get on the board in a few hours). After being left out of the playoff last season, Oklahoma was a 20-point loser this season. Does that affect the image of the Big 12? One team’s performance should not be the only measuring stick for the strength of an entire conference, but that will what is magnified in Big 12 circles in the coming months and heading into the 2016 season.